With the announced resignation of CDU chair Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party will have to fill not one but two voids in the upcoming months. Firstly, a successor for Kramp-Karrenbauer needs to be found. The individual in question, however, will most likely also become the party’s next chancellor candidate for the general election in 2021, making the choice doubly important.
Who is Being Suggested to Replace Kramp-Karrenbauer?
Names have been circulating even before Kramp-Karrenbauer’s decision to leave her post. Old acquaintances, each with an individual approach towards politics have been suggested. Regardless of the party’s next chair, however, the CDU will need to return to its conservative origins in order to not to be the second people’s party in Germany that is falling apart. Neither of these subsequent candidates has yet commented on the rumors, but the positioning games are expected to begin next week, as Kramp-Karrenbauer has announced talks with “potential successors.”
First Potential Candidate: Markus Söder
There is Markus Söder, for one. Bavaria’s Minister-President has held the office since 2018. He has been sitting for the CSU in the Bavarian state parliament since 1994 (the CSU is the CDU’s sister party in the state of Bavaria and has traditionally been much more conservative than the CDU). Recently, Söder changed attitudes in the areas of environmental protection and sea rescue have raised questions. In addition, what Söder had previously called “asylum tourism” in 2018 he no longer wants to be associated with today—instead, he advocates for a cooperative European solution in the area of sea rescue in the Mediterranean.This change is a testimony to Söder being an opportunist rather than having any consistent ideology or political beliefs.
Nevertheless, it remains doubtful that Söder will receive the necessary support within the party. In the history of the republic, only two CSU men (Stoiber and Strauß) ran for chancellor, and both had already been exceptional politicians at the time. While Söder has been a commendable Minister-President for Bavaria, it may be too early for him to step onto the national stage.
Second Potential Candidate: Armin Laschet
Then there is Armin Laschet, who has reportedly long sought to take the reins. What speaks in favor of North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister-President, is that he heads the CDU’s state party with the most members, and thus he has vast support guaranteed. Laschet has, moreover, been a member of the CDU’s federal executive board since 2008. Since 2012, he has also been one of five deputy CDU federal leaders, which makes him someone with a high-profile within the party. One of Laschet’s strongest qualities has been his proclivity to mediate and overcome political gridlock via compromise, which could be an interesting strategy after the Merkel years—during which her opinion was usually delivered ex-cathedra. However, Laschet is also seen as a supporter of the Grand Coalition, which is an opinion that many members do not share.
Third Potential Candidate: Jens Spahn
Another possible candidate is Health Minister Jens Spahn. Spahn had already run for the party’s chair in 2018 but lagged behind Kramp-Karrenbauer and Friedrich Merz. Spahn has had recent political successes in his field and is pushing for digitalization in the health sector. Most recently, he failed with the push for a massive reform in the area of organ donation, however. Spahn is seen as a conservative, but his profile seems pale in comparison to the other candidates.
Most Likely Candidate: Friedrich Merz
The favorite to replace Kramp-Karrenbauer, however, remains Friedrich Merz. Merz led the Union’s parliamentary group in the opposition from 2000 to 2002. After internal party quarrels with Angela Merkel, he left federal politics in 2009. In 2018, when Merkel announced she would no longer run as Chancellor, Merz returned to the political stage and joined Spahn and Kramp-Karrenbauer in the race for the party’s chair.
Despite the defeat, Merz has since repositioned himself politically, most likely because he was cognizant about Kramp-Karrenbauer’s weaknesses and eventual failure. Merz is another conservative party member—in the traditional sense—and has the support of a group within the CDU that calls itself “Werte Union,” intending to correct the leftward course that occurred under Merkel.
Already during a 2018 speech, Merz said that he could “halve” the AfD’s voters, which suggests that he would bring the CDU back to its traditional values. Merz, a businessman, is also seen as an opponent of the Grand Coalition. Instead, he favors the traditional CDU/FDP coalition. In addition, Merz is also much more popular than its competitors, especially in eastern Germany.
The main criticism against Merz? His success. In 2018 he was criticized for being a millionaire and thus allegedly not being able to understand “the little man”—an old rhetorical trick of the socialist forces in Germany to demonize success. Whether the success stigma will be sufficient this time is doubtful, and if Merz plays his cards right he will not only be the person that revitalizes the CDU’s polls but also has the chance to make the CDU what it used to be and provide Germany with a genuine conservative force once again.